I BEG YOUR PAR­DON?

Rahul’s cam­paign to cap­ture Ut­tar Pradesh kicks off amid con­tro­versy

India Today - - NATION - By Ashish Misra

Rahul Gandhi’s im­pas­sioned plea to Ut­tar Pradesh vot­ers for change while launch­ing his party’s cam­paign for the Assem­bly elec­tions in 2012 has ended up giv­ing op­po­nents a han­dle to be­rate him for “in­sult­ing” the peo­ple. “For how long will you beg in Ma­ha­rash­tra or work as labour­ers in Pun­jab? When are you go­ing to change the govern­ment here? Tell me right now. I want a re­ply. Let us all join hands to bring about the change,” the Congress gen­eral sec­re­tary told peo­ple in Phulpur, Al­la­habad, on Novem­ber 14.

Congress’s ri­vals quickly latched on to Gandhi’s state­ment. “The peo­ple of Ut­tar Pradesh are dili­gent and sel­f­re­spect­ing. Gandhi has in­sulted them by call­ing them beg­gars,” said S.P. Mau­rya, the rul­ing Bahu­jan Sa­maj Party’s state pres­i­dent. State BJP Pres­i­dent S.P. Shahi said the Congress gen­eral sec­re­tary’s state­ment was “shame­ful”. “The Congress should re­alise that peo­ple from Ut­tar Pradesh had a big role to play in the de­velop- ment of states like Ma­ha­rash­tra and Pun­jab. They will not tol­er­ate this in­sult and give a fit­ting re­buff to the Congress in the forth­com­ing Assem­bly elec­tions,” he said.

The state­ment res­onated in Ma­ha­rash­tra, one of the states Gandhi had named, unit­ing even the es­tranged Thackeray cousins. While Ud­dhav Thackeray, Shiv Sena’s ex­ec­u­tive pres­i­dent, al­leged that Gandhi was sow­ing dis­cord among dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ties in the coun­try, Ma­ha­rash­tra Navnir­man Sena Pres­i­dent Raj Thackeray blamed the Gandhi fam­ily for Ut­tar Pradesh’s back­ward­ness. “If Rahul Gandhi feels pity for the youths of Ut­tar Pradesh, he should take them to his house. When Shiv Sena takes a stand in favour of Ma­ha­rash­tri­ans, the party is ac­cused of be­ing parochial. What would you call him?” Ud­dhav said. “Congress ruled Ut­tar Pradesh for more than 50 years. Who had stopped the Gand­his? Their fail­ure to de­velop the state has be­come a headache for Ma­ha­rash­tra,” said Raj.

The Phulpur rally was high on sym­bol­ism and in­tent on re­gain­ing lost CONGRESS LEAD­ERS STOPTWO YOUNG­STERS

WHO BREACHED RAHUL­GANDHI’S SE­CU­RITY glory. Held on Jawa­har­lal Nehru’s birth­day and in a former Congress bas­tion which had re­turned Nehru thrice to the Lok Sabha, Gandhi, his great­grand­son, opened by in­vok­ing the legacy of In­dia’s first prime min­is­ter and how it has been laid waste: “Ut­tar Pradesh once showed the way. Now, the state is back­ward. Nehruji was once an MP from here but now mafia and crim­i­nal el­e­ments be­come MPS.” The Congress gen­eral sec­re­tary sig­nalled that the party means busi­ness this time, with him lead­ing the charge in the state. If there was still any doubt about it, a ban­ner at the rally venue said it all: “Nehru ji ko yaad karenge, Rahul ji ke saath chalenge (we’ll re­mem­ber Nehru and walk with Rahul).”

Gandhi’s open­ing salvo car­ried a strong de­fence of his nu­mer­ous vis­its to homes of poor peo­ple in the state. “The peo­ple of Ut­tar Pradesh taught me that to be­come a leader, one has to go to them. Un­til a leader doesn’t eat in the house of a poor man, he won’t un­der­stand his prob­lems. Un­til he drinks

water from a poor man’s well and suf­fers a stom­ach up­set, he won’t un­der­stand the pain of poverty. Un­less a leader doesn’t un­der­stand the feel­ings of the poor, he can­not get an­gry.”

The Congress scion swiftly brought Ut­tar Pradesh Chief Min­is­ter Mayawati and Sa­ma­jwadi Party ( SP) chief Mu­layam Singh Ya­dav into the loop.

“For how long will you beg in Ma­ha­rash­tra or work as labour­ers in Pun­jab? When are you go­ing to change the govern­ment here? Tell me right now. I want a re­ply. Let us all join hands to bring about the change.”

RAHUL GANDHI,

Congress Gen­eral Sec­re­tary

“Once upon a time, Mayawatiji and Mu­layamji had this type of anger, but to­day it is dead. Now they are hun­gry for power by any means.”

Gandhi then crit­i­cised the two lead­ers. He flayed the Mayawati govern­ment for “mis­us­ing” Cen­tral de­vel­op­ment funds, es­pe­cially for Bun­delk­hand, the area he has been fo­cus­ing on in re­cent times. “The Cen­tre gave this re­gion a spe­cial pack­age of Rs 7,000 crore but it did not re­sult in any tan­gi­ble work on the ground. The chief min­is­ter toured var­i­ous parts of the state but did not care to go to the area reel­ing un­der se­vere drought,” he said. He also ac­cused the Mayawati govern­ment of snatch­ing land from poor farm­ers in the name of ac­qui­si­tion for de­vel­op­ment and hand­ing them over to builders to reap prof­its. “Farm­ers are paid a pit­tance and those who protest, like in Bhatta-parsaul and Tap­pal, get bul­lets,” he said. On Mu­layam, Gandhi said the SP regime was marked by mafia and crim­i­nals run­ning po­lice sta­tions.

While Gandhi tar­geted both Mayawati and Mu­layam to em­pha­sise the Congress’s equidis­tance from its prin­ci­pal ri­vals in the state, two ac­tivists of Sa­ma­jwadi Ch­ha­tra Sabha, the SP’S stu­dents’ wing, were man­han­dled by Union min­is­ters Jitin Prasada and R.P.N. Singh and Congress Leg­is­la­ture Party leader in the Ut­tar Pradesh Assem­bly Pramod Ti­wari. The two, iden­ti­fied as Ab­hishek Ya­dav and Anil Ya­dav, had bro­ken through the se­cu­rity cor­don car­ry­ing black flags and raised anti-congress slo­gans soon af­ter Gandhi’s helicopter had landed at the rally venue. Akhilesh Ya­dav, the state

SP pres­i­dent, had an­nounced ear­lier that his party will show the Congress leader a mir­ror to him­self.

While Prasada and Ti­wari were un­avail­able for com­ment, R.P.N. Singh ex­pressed shock at the boys be­ing let off later. “It’s the two boys, not me, who should apol­o­gise. I was only de­fend­ing a mem­ber of the Gandhi fam­ily,” he said. He won­dered how such a ma­jor lapse of se­cu­rity could have oc­curred. “The po­lice and the govern­ment are work­ing to­gether to tar­get the Congress,” he said.

with Ki­ran Tare and Shravya Jain

NITIN SHARMA

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